Finding award flights at reasonable prices can be difficult, especially during peak periods, but here’s a tip if you have some flexibility.
When an airline operates a route seasonally, such as from North America to Europe during the busy summer months, check availability toward the start or end of that season.
The exact dates of seasonal flights will differ from airline to airline and route to route, but for Europe, airlines may start around the end of March and finish around the end of October each year. If you can travel in April or October, these shoulder months may have fewer travelers booking those award seats, especially in premium cabins.
So how do you know a route is seasonal? You don’t need to be an aviation wizard to find the answer.
You can look at the relevant origin or destination airport’s Wikipedia page, where you will see a route listed as seasonal if it does not operate year-round. You can also play around on the airline’s website or Google Flights to see when the route starts and ends.
For example, I can see that Air Canada operates a seasonal route from Toronto Pearson Airport (YYZ) to Athens International Airport (ATH) in Greece. Over the busy summer season, this nonstop service can be several hundred thousand Aeroplan points in business class each way.
Aeroplan prices its flights according to demand, and many people want to fly to Greece in June next year.
However, this seasonal flight ends on Nov. 25. While November may be a little cold to visit Athens, October is a great month to go, as the crowds will be fewer but the weather will still be warm and pleasant for that hike up to the Acropolis.
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By searching for a seasonal flight toward the end of its schedule, the pricing is much more reasonable (under 70,000 miles in business class on many dates). Even better? There were an impressive five seats available at this price at the time of writing.
Searching for award availability at the beginning (or end) of a seasonal flight’s calendar can be a great way to find reasonable rates — though not every route will provide affordable award pricing, even for dates you consider off-peak. Dynamic pricing has meant that some programs have high prices for virtually every date on the calendar, though we have some tips to save points and miles if that is the case.
I have found great availability and prices by looking at seasonal routes toward the start and end of their seasons. Presumably, the operating airline does not see the demand to operate the route year-round, so savvy travelers can aim for the sweet spot — those months when the route has just started or is about to finish, but the demand is not as high.
As well as booking a seat for an affordable price, these dates can be a savvy way to visit a popular destination by traveling when crowds are thinner and the weather is still decent.